Understanding Chronic and Sexual Pain: A Multidisciplinary Approach
Your guide to understanding chronic and sexual pain.
Pain is an unpleasant and overwhelming sensory experience that affects millions of people worldwide, both physically and emotionally. While it often serves as a warning signal, indicating that something is wrong in the body, pain can become a debilitating and chronic condition in itself.
At CAYA, pain and hearing about our client’s pain was one of the reasons why we started the clinic. We repeatedly heard stories of clients struggling with pain on multiple levels, prompting them to visit various practitioners, retell their stories, and endure a cycle of appointments that often exacerbated their emotional and physical suffering. At CAYA, we’ve taken a different approach, bringing together practitioners under one roof to offer holistic support to our clients and patients.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into different facets of pain, including chronic pain and sexual pain, and explore the multidisciplinary approaches to managing and alleviating it.
Chronic pain is typically defined as pain that persists for three months or more. It can have various origins, including injuries, medical conditions, or even unknown causes, making diagnosis and treatment more challenging and frustrating. What makes chronic pain particularly overwhelming is its profound impact, not only on the body but on an individual’s psychological and emotional well-being.
Prior knowledge, cultural roots, past experiences, and expectations influence pain. It can be present constantly or intermittently and increase or decrease throughout the day.
Pain is your body’s built-in alarm system, signalling when something is wrong. It shows up when you’re injured or ill. Yet, pain that lingers for months or years, although not uncommon, is far from normal. Persistent or chronic pain disrupts daily functioning, interfering with activities you enjoy, work commitments, personal relationships, and even sexual health.
Sexual pain is often dismissed, overlooked, and stigmatized. It can occur in all people regardless of gender and has various causes, including medical conditions, injury, and/or psychological factors. Sexual pain can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and intimate relationships, including low desire, increased anxiety and avoidance, relationship strain, and low self-esteem. For many, sexual pain was not discussed in education or in conversations about the “birds and the bees” but it is something that needs to be highlighted. All too often people are suffering with this pain alone.
For those assigned female at birth, sexual pain can encompass a range of conditions, such as Vulvodynia and Vaginismus. Vulvodynia is a pain condition where an unpleasant sensation (e.g., burning, stinging, etc.) involves the vulva. If the discomfort is felt at the entrance to the vagina, it is called Vestibulodynia. Vaginismus is a spasm of the muscles surrounding the vagina. The spasms can make penetration difficult and painful. These conditions can have physical, emotional, and psychological components, making diagnosis and treatment challenging.
Women and individuals assigned female at birth often experience longer and more severe bouts of chronic pain compared to men. Many women also report that their pain is frequently dismissed or wrongly attributed to psychological factors. To better understand this issue, you can read our related blog post here.
Pain, whether chronic and/or related to sexual health, rarely has a single, straightforward solution. It requires a holistic, multidisciplinary approach that considers the physical, psychological, and emotional dimensions of the individual’s experience. Several key elements are important when working in a multidisciplinary approach, highlighted below:
Communication: Effective communication among all members of the healthcare team is crucial. Physicians, registered physiotherapists, pelvic floor physiotherapists, mental health professionals, registered massage therapists, and registered dietitians collaborate to create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the patient’s unique needs.
Education: Empowering patients and clients with knowledge about their condition and the available treatment options is also important. Informed patients are more likely to actively engage in their recovery and make informed decisions regarding their care.
Lifestyle Modifications: Lifestyle adjustments, including dietary changes, exercise, and stress management, can significantly impact pain management. These factors should not be underestimated and can complement other treatment modalities.
How do we address these concerns at CAYA?
Medical Interventions: One of the primary approaches to managing chronic pain is through medical interventions. Our dedicated physicians are passionate about gynecological care, and one of the first steps to managing pain is understanding and ruling out any underlying medical conditions contributing to the pain. In cases of sexual pain, a comprehensive medical evaluation is essential. This may involve consultations with gynecologists, urologists, or other specialists to identify and address any physical causes.
Physiotherapy: Physiotherapy plays a pivotal role in chronic pain management. Skilled physiotherapists collaborate with patients to enhance mobility, reduce pain, and improve overall physical function. Through a combination of exercises, manual therapy, and education, physiotherapy empowers individuals to regain control over their lives. Pelvic floor physiotherapy is a specialized field that can be immensely beneficial for individuals living with sexual pain. It focuses on the muscles and structures of the pelvic floor and surrounding regions, enhancing muscle tone, alleviating pain, and enhancing sexual function.
Mental Health Support: Chronic pain can take a toll on mental health, often leading to anxiety, depression, and other emotional challenges that intensify the perception of pain. Integrating mental health support is important within the multidisciplinary approach to chronic pain management. Just as with chronic pain, chronic sexual pain can influence psychological well-being. Individuals may experience anxiety, shame, or fear related to their condition. We avoid things that hurt – which makes sense! However, if we avoid things that bring us joy or pleasure – like intimacy, this can actually exacerbate and worsen our physical and emotional pain long-term.
Massage Therapy: Massage therapy can help with relaxation and overall stress relief. Stress can activate our nervous system which can cause heightened sensitivity to pain signals. Working with a massage therapist can help with pain relief, as well as overall mental health like stress and anxiety relief.
Nutrition Counselling: Registered dietitians can help create plans for sustainable lifestyle and dietary changes, which can significantly impact pain management. While your diet may not directly impact your pain experience, adding nutrition strategies that help you feel good can complement your other treatment modalities. Whether it is anti-inflammatory diet recommendations, fueling your body to decrease fatigue, or meal planning tips for stressful times, registered dietitians can work with you on your health journey.
Pain is a multifaceted experience that significantly impacts an individual’s quality of life. Whether it’s chronic pain or chronic sexual pain, a multidisciplinary approach often yields the most effective results. By combining medical interventions, physiotherapy, mental health support, and allied health approaches, individuals can find relief from their pain and regain confidence in enjoying their daily lives.